Before I met him, I was pining for him. Although I was thankful for my dogs, husband, family, and had a full life, there was a horse-sized hole in my heart. That hole was filled with this character whom I’ve had the pleasure of owning and loving for about a year and a half now. I love my off-track Thoroughbred! And I’m not shy about it.
I am biased that my OTTB Knight is uber cool. And I realize that lots of great non-Thoroughbred horses out there might share characteristics like the ones I’m about to rattle off. Knight is my fourth horse and first OTTB (my previous Thoroughbred never made it to the track). So the traits/aspects in my list are those which have stood out to me as mostly different from my prior equine pals, not necessarily unique to just ex-racers.
8 Reasons OTTBs Rock!
1. Excellent Ground Manners. The day of my pre-purchase exam, the veterinarian got to the barn early and had already completed much of the examination by the time I arrived. Her first comment was that Knight was great to work on and had a nice disposition. The first time I met my farrier, Knight was standing in the crossties with shiny new shoes. Without prompting, he said Knight was pleasant to shoe. Whoever the people were who brought this horse along as a youngster did a wonderful job. (Honestly, Knight is easier to walk and has better manners than my Doberman or Golden Retriever. Seriously.)
2. Not Phased by Tractors, Motorcycles, and Helicopters! During one of my first riding lessons, when we rode at the far end of the arena which is closest to the street, a motorcycle screamed past. My trusty ex-racehorse did not panic or change the rhythm of his gait! Our first barn had a composting program with a manure mountain. Tractors dump the loads (no pun intended) and one day when it was potentially going to rain the assistant trainer said the workers pulled a huge blue tarp over the pile as she rode Knight and he didn’t blink. The event that still amazes me was when a helicopter flew over our arena while I was riding and my horse did not panic (even though my heart was all a-flutter!) Knight raced at all the major tracks in California. I feel like he’s seen everything and nothing surprises him.
3. Easy to Cyber Stalk an OTTB’s Background Admit it. You’ve either Googled your name or the name of someone you were going to date. There’s another Susan Friedland out there who has written several Jewish cookbooks. (I’m not her.) Well, if you have an ex-racehorse, it’s simple to find out all kinds of info about him or her by going on equibase.com or pedigreequery.com. Anyway, I have my friend R to thank for telling me that since Knight won one race, I could contact the track photographer and they would have pictures in the Winner’s Circle! How cool is it that Victor Espinoza, a Triple Crown winning jockey, and I have both ridden Knight?
4. Agreeable Around Other Horses. I don’t like riding in the dark, but with the time change, by the time I’m off work, it’s dusk which means by the time I’m in the saddle, it’s pitch black except for a few arena lights. A few weeks into owning Knight I was all alone in the arena and a bareback rider came in. I said, “Oh good, I’ll have some company.” She walked over to me and introduced herself and the two of us–or should I say, four of us–walked abreast for several laps of the arena as we got to know each other. I kept thinking, “He doesn’t even care this new horse is in his personal space.” Then it dawned on me that he was used to having a pony horse lead him around the track.
5. Sweet personality. I’ll be honest. At first I was worried that Knight didn’t have a personality. I actually thought he might be fun to ride but not have a whole lot going on “upstairs.” I speculated maybe he was so quiet because he was kind of stupid. Someone with an OTTB commented not to worry–that her OTTB was a bit aloof for a couple of months until he adjusted to being connected with one person. I’ll never forget during a lesson with the assistant trainer, as we paused and stood about eight feet away from her so she could review what we’d done and tell me what to do next, Knight sidled over to her and placed his head right in front of her torso, almost touching her. She rubbed his head and gave him a little hug. He’s an equine Teddy Bear.
6. Possible Therapy Horse??? Family friends of ours (who aren’t horse folk) live a couple of miles from the stable (lucky!). I introduced my friend (the mom) to Knight about a month into owning him. She fed him carrots and talked to him and kept remarking at how big he was but he seemed so gentle. I told her to stop by and say hi to him and give him treats any time. A couple of weeks later I got a text message that her daughter’s boyfriend had just broken up with her, and she was heartbroken. The daughter requested to go see Knight. So the pair went to see my horse. The mom texted me, “She fed him carrots and smiled. . . He was so sweet to her. . . good therapy.”
7. Work Ethic My first horse, a sorrel Quarter Horse, did not particularly like being ridden. He was happier lounging. He had no health problems, he was just a big lazy oaf. Both Thoroughbreds I’ve had seem to actually enjoy being worked. They like being athletic. If they were human, they’d be your fit and perky friend who urges you to join her at the gym. It struck me after about the third rotation on a 15-meter circle during a lesson two weeks ago, that my horse was listening to me and so obedient. I didn’t even like doing the circle, but my horse just went along, apparently not getting dizzy, not thinking, “This is really dumb, I’m meant to run a mile, why am I having to bend and be on the bit?”
8. A Fantastic Value for the Money Spent. I don’t like talking about money. Especially when it comes to horses. Because it’s such an expensive hobby, it can get depressing, or truthfully, I feel guilty lavishing $$$ on a horse when there are so many people suffering in the world. But I will say that I had prepared a budget when horse shopping. I came up with a figure that was out of my comfort zone. Could I have paid it? Yes. Would I have felt excessive? Yes. The reality is, I’m not a future Olympian, I’m not going to be showing every weekend. I’m happy to report that I spent A LOT less than I was prepared to. On the purchase cost that is. As any horse lover will admit, it’s the ongoing expenses that make a horse expensive. But if you’re like me, we figure out a way to make it all come together to feed our passion.
Your Turn: What characteristics of your horse are you grateful for?
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